The lovely weather, excellent cuisine, endless sights to see, colorful culture, and peace and order are only some of the reasons why Japan has become a Filipino favorite when it comes to vacations with family or friends. Apart from being just about a 4-hour flight away from Manila, the Land of the Rising Sun is home to theme park favorites like Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, the famous food district in Osaka (also known as the “Nation’s Kitchen"), and of course, the annual Instagram-worthy Sakura or Cherry Blossom Festival.
While there’s nothing wrong with visiting Tokyo or Osaka repeatedly, Japan boasts many other places that are just as beautiful and exciting as its famed prefectures. Need ideas? Scroll down for some of the country’s underrated spots that are worthy of a stop or stay on your next Japan trip!
Sitting at the top of Japan’s main islands is Hokkaido, known for its volcanoes, onsen (natural hot springs), and ski areas. Frequented by locals and tourists alike especially during winter, it gives you spectacular natural views and incredible seafood from its coastal areas, plus mouthwatering wagyu beef and dairy products from its inland spots. For some thrill amidst gorgeous scenery, hit up the slopes and have a beer in between skiing in Sapporo, or head to Niseko for more skiing, a dip in the hot springs, and a visit to Mount Yotei, Mount Fuji’s look-alike. For those into glasswork and strolling alongside a picturesque canal, Otaru is a great choice, too. And if you’re looking to be blown away by nature’s beauty, volcanic caldera Lake Tōya in Shikotsu-Toya National Park and man-made Shirogane Blue Pond in Biei are sure to satisfy.
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A must for foodies, the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen, Fukuoka, has streets lined with yatai or small, open-air food stands that serve simple yet deliciously filling dishes. While it has its share of ancient temples and beaches, this prefecture is also known as one of Japan’s most modern areas. There’s something for everyone to love in this up-and-coming destination—shopaholics will find delight in Canal City Hakata, a sprawling shopping mall with specialty stores, dining options, and fountain shows, while city-lovers will enjoy a visit to the top of Fukuoka Tower, where you’re given the best access to sprawling city and bay views. For nature enthusiasts, Uminonakamichi Seaside Park is a leisure space with camping grounds, a refreshing pool, seasonal flower festivals, and even an amusement park.
The name Hiroshima probably rings a bell from your history classes, but despite being largely destroyed by an atomic bomb in World War II, it’s now a modern and developed city in Honshu Island. Because of the history it holds, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is definitely worth a visit. While it commemorates the tragic 1945 event, it’s also where you’ll find the ruins of Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings left near Ground Zero. Hiroshima Castle, surrounded by a moat and park, and formal Japanese garden Shukkei-en are worth your time, too. Worried about the effects of the nuclear bomb? Its radiation level is now at par with anywhere else, making it absolutely safe to visit.
More than just one of your go-to milk tea flavors, Okinawa comprises over 150 islands in the East China Sea. Its tropical climate is the perfect complement to its pristine beaches and colorful coral reefs. Water babies will get their fun in Ishigaki where they can visit Maezato beach and swim amidst blue corals, or Churaumi Aquarium, where they can say hello to whale sharks and manta rays. A trip to Iriomote Island’s Pinaisaara Waterfall and mangrove forests will refresh your senses, while Shurijo Castle will fill you in on parts of Japan’s history. As Okinawa played an important role in World War II as well, its Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum commemorates a huge Allied Invasion in 1945.
For tourists who want the most authentic local experience, head to Kochi. Apart from being the birthplace of the cultural Sakamoto Ryoma and Yosakoi festivals, this prefecture gives off a casual, folksy vibe, thanks to its local markets and rustic food halls. A trip to the open-air Sunday Market is a must—having been around for more than 300 years since the Edo period, it’s now lined with about 500 stalls, each selling Kochi local eats and souvenirs. Not spending the weekend in Kochi? Another option is Hirome Ichiba or the Hirome Market, where you can find around 65 street stall-like restaurants, fresh meat and fish shops, local alcohol stalls, and souvenir and clothing boutiques. For those who want an immersion in Kochi tradition, the Kochi Castle should be on your list of places to visit as it is the country’s only castle that still preserves all its original structures.
Cycling enthusiasts will want to visit Ehime. Located in northwestern Shikoku, it’s known for its marvelous bridges that make for a scenic cycling route over architectural masterpieces—this is probably also why it’s part of the route of spiritual pilgrimages in the country. Must-visits in this prefecture include the Dōgo Onsen, one of Japan’s oldest hot springs, and the restored feudal Matsuyama Castle that can be accessed by cable car, via chairlift, or on foot. A special spot for cat lovers is Aoshima or Cat Island, where felines outnumber humans by an approximately 10:1 ratio!
Saga, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, offers something a little bit different from the other prefectures: traditional ceramics. Made in its northwestern towns, ceramics are highly symbolic of Japan’s culture, hence the preserved traditions in the area. Kyushu Ceramic Musuem in Arita immerses you in the heritage of traditional ceramics; Okawachiyama village has a huge display of centuries-old kilns; while Karatsu is where you can find many pottery studios. To add some variety to your trip, seek out the coastal pine forest of Nijinomatsubara, a scenic wonder you wouldn’t want to miss.
Fall in love with the traditional mountain villages of Gifu. Situated at the center of Japan, it’s where you can find Takayama, a less popular skiing destination (read: less crowds!). Take the Shinhotaka Ropeway or the dual-line aerial tram to Mount Hotaka, where you can enjoy various recreational activities, or head to the historic villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama for charming, traditional Gassho-style farmhouses. While these are enough for a restful vacation, what will seal the deal is a trip to Gujo Hacjiman, the "Fake Food Capital of Japan" or the leading producer of sampuru (fake food displays), which is known as a billion-yen industry.
When you think you’ve seen all that Japan has to offer, the unassuming Tottori will prove otherwise. Filled with small cities and towns sans the crowds, it’s known for its natural wonders like beaches, sand dunes, coastal rock formations, and shrines and temples in forests. While you wouldn’t think it is iconic of Japan, the Tottori Sand Dunes are truly a sight to see, while The Sand Museum filled with sand sculptures with works by 15 international sculptors is in a class of its own. And while you’re seeing things that you wouldn’t think you’d see in Japan, kayak along Uradome Coast, a scenic, long coastal inlet, and let the stunning rock formations take your breath away.
Shimane, Japan’s second to the least populous prefecture isn’t frequented by many tourists, but has equally as much to offer as more famous spots. Due to its low influx of visitors, this mountainous coastal prefecture boasts well-preserved nature and culture. Visit the traditional wooden castle of Matsue, where you’re given front-row seats to hilltop views and Edo-style homes. Be better-acquainted with traditional Japan in Izumo-taisha, one of the country’s earliest Shinto complexes where rare Taisha-style architecture is exhibited. But for a mix of the old and the new, the Adachi Museum of Art displays modern Japanese works and a well-renowned garden—all in the hopes of founder Adachi Zenko that love for Japanese art will thrive through local craft and garden landscaping.
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